September 18, 2012 | Alex
I have a challenging relationship with objects that are overtly feminine. I am a woman and happy to be one. But whether it is the texture, pattern, shape or material that conveys a heavy-handed "womanliness," I can think of no single characteristic that evokes such a guttural response in me.
This is true in the realm of both interior design and fashion. These days, my visual response tends to be stronger to images of Versaille-like interiors-- anything baroque, gilded, pink velvet, lavender, "romantic" (whatever that means), just to name a few.
It's roots, however, are in fashion. My first conscious memory of this bizarre aversion is from high school. I was invited to a very fancy birthday party for a schoolmate at which the fashion stakes were high. There was a red carpet and a slew of hired "paparazzi" to photograph the guests as they entered the party. Quite a departure from my favorite birthday party, which featured cardboard cut-outs of R2-D2 and Chewbacca. In an early homage to masculine style, I borrowed my mom's riding boots and vintage RL military jacket and went as this guy:
Back to the party: there was also an aspiring fashion designer, now quite successful with a store in SoHo, an up-and-coming accessories editor and a legendary fashion editor in attendance. (Side note: my high school was a weird place.) My friends and mom talked me into a pretty pastel blue dress with a full skirt and pintucking. It was sweet, very retro. It was also very in style, according to the magazines. But it didn't feel like me. I felt like an imposter when I tried it on, but what do I know? Everyone at the party was going to be far more fashionable than I, so I decided to defer to my more fashion-conscious loved ones. The dress looked vaguely like this Tracy Reese number, but with a printed (not lace) floral pattern in baby blue:
Predictably (in hindsight), when I showed up at the party all my schoolmates were in tight, short, decidedly not retro dresses. I think I was at the party all of 15 minutes when I suddenly developed a splitting headache, extreme nausea and shortness of breath. I jumped in a cab and very nearly made it home before the nausea won out. Needless the say, the cab driver was not sympathetic to my teenage angst.
Maybe it was just a classic case of teenage social anxiety, but regardless of root cause, the enduring legacy is an aversion to overt femininity in design. To date, I have only purchased 1 floral patterned clothing item and that was about 3 weeks ago. I almost returned it within the first 24 hours. But in the spirit of moving on, I kept it and actually love it. I wear it all the time:
I suppose if I had to define my style, I would say I like balanced interiors with a healthy dose of traditionally minimalist materials. For example, I've learned that I enjoy pastels-- but only when tempered by leather, wood, concrete or steel. Marimekko (and other modern textile designers) even make floral patterns that don't jump start my gag reflex. My new Equipment blouse is a perfect example! So is Marimekko's famous Unikko pattern, which I learned from Apartment Therapy's Quick History today, was explicitly designed to be the anti-floral-pattern floral pattern:
To most people, this room might not read as overtly feminine. But to me, it screams, "A LADY LIVES HERE." The chandelier might as well be made of Tampax. I even tried tempering it with with those funky vintage bucket chairs (also an Etsy find). What is it that's striking me as being so ladylike? I'm not quite sure I know. My best guess is the interaction between the mint green tones in the photograph and coffee table props, brass accents and ethereal blown glass. None of those elements resonate as being particularly feminine on their own, but together I was shocked that this room came from my brain. Not only did I fail to have a psychosomatic reaction, you know, the truth is I really like it!
For readers more comfortable with gender norms, here are the sources (clockwise from top left):
1. Photograph - Deer Beds by Katherine Wolkoff, Available at Sasha Wolf Gallery. (20% until Sept 30 for Cup of Jo readers.)
2. Window Treatment - Links Printed Roman Shade, West Elm - $119.99
3. Light Fixture - Original Bubble Chandelier, Pelle Designs - $750
4. Dining Chairs - Vintage 70s Saarineen Inspired Chair, Belated Designs @Etsy - $150
5. Dining Table - Docksta Table, Ikea - $199
6. Coffee Table - Live Edge Walnut Slab with Brass Base, Dylan Grey @Etsy - $950
7. Sofa - Flip Sofabed, Gus Modern - $1,999
8. Throw Pillow - Modern Bohemian Handwoven Kilim Pillow, Pillow Store @Etsy - $50.99
Despite my girlie moment and possible progress, I'd still choose to live here any day of the week: